Sunday, July 21, 2019

Dancing in Gumboots - Scenes from the Huon Valley Apple Festival

Happy Wassailers led by Morris Dancers on their way to the apple orchard

On a more light -hearted note, I spent last Saturday at the Willie Smith Apple Festival in the Huon Valley.  The Huon certainly needs it after the devastating fires of the summer, which left many businesses still struggling and trying to recover. This was definitely a case of fighting fire with fire.

Meet James, the first of several Green Men I was to encounter

Mists rise wraith -like from the mountains while Morris Dancers defy the retreating rain

I didn’t hold out much hope at first. Despite the snow on the mountain, we’d had positively biblical rain all morning and when I arrived at the sports ground where the festival was being held, cars were being turned away because unless you had four wheel drive it was too muddy to drive in. The idea was to park in Huonville and take advantage of the free shuttle buses that were being run from there. However,  thinking I would be OK with my truck tyres, I promptly got bogged on a grassy verge.  Many thanks to the long suffering ground crew who solved this problem fairly promptly. I was also very grateful that my van remained nearby as I could swap my leather boots for gumboots, put on extra  jumpers as the night wore on, and even had  a set  of dry clothes should the need arise.  Even better, I had two doonas and a down sleeping bag in case I couldn’t drive out.

Colourful costumes, Hats and Headgear were  big news

The Apple Festival is a much more rustic and laid -back affair than Dark Mofo. Think old fashioned bush dance –hay bales and fiddle music, meets country fair with a few ancient Anglo Saxon traditions thrown in.  Neither the cold, nor the mud, nor the occasional shower seemed to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm.  An estimated 20,000 were expected with some 25% of them from interstate. Colourful Morris dancers danced up a storm in the afternoon ostensibly to make the sun come up. Beautiful creatures, glided by, or wobbled or squelched by, depending on their footwear. Some were horned, some wore crowns of leaves and flowers or sported crazy eye makeup.  Strolling entertainers drew crowds and the many food stalls and cider bars were busy.

Lovely Costumes  and Beautiful Creatures. This is Tracy

Sharnie in her white furs was over from Melbourne for her third Apple Festival

The Crows
The efforts of the Morris Dancers paid off. Not that the sun came up, but a bright clear moon did. After dark, the gigantic bonfire with wood the size of telegraph poles lit up the night. Poor Willie, the two -storey high  straw man, had met his fate the night before and now only his skeleton glowed eerily on the hill. People began to gather around the many fire pits with their jugs or enamelled mugs in hand. There were displays of traditional woodwork, fortune tellers, craft workers selling leather goods, woodwork, jewellery and the like, and places to have your hair braided or makeyour own nature inspired crown. 

Lisa shows off her facepaint and her exceptional horns

Part of the Sculpture Competition  - an exuberant Adam rises from a vat of apples

 Soon the three main entertainment areas began to fill up – the main tent resonated alternately with Irish reels, rock or rousing shearing songs. The smaller Apple Shed with its couches and armchairs, was the venue for small groups and comedians while in the Storytellers’ Tent right up the back, there were the plaintive notes of a folk singer with an acoustic guitar. The Feasting Tent  had its own entertainment - a lively trio with concertina, piano and washboard which played English Music Hall favourites. 

Amanda and son

A jolly crew. Warren Marshall  and his flaming Piano on the right with inventor and engineer behind him . On the left is Blunderbuss Jones who entertains the crowd with his fiery trumpet

Blunderbuss Jones in action

The girl/ young person who accompanied him was a real trouper. I'm sorry I didn't catch her name
The Wayfarers of Wesgard revive and relive Viking ways. That's a goat stew in the pot and they have their own mead maker



The flaming piano lights up the night sky. It also plays music!

Just what you need in a Tassie winter
At around eightish, I followed a phalanx of people led by children and the Morris Dancers carrying flaming brands, to the apple orchard at the top of the hill where the real business of the evening began. Small children affixed cider soaked toast to the apple trees to attract the birds and the rest of us dutifully wassailed the apple them, the trees, that is, singing lustily and drinking liberally to their health. After each toast people banged on pots and pans and a gun was fired to scare away unfriendly spirits. I can assure you there were none and if those apple trees don’t produce a gazillion apples, it won’t be any fault of ours. 

Festivities are presided over by the Apple King

In the Apple Shed
In the Feasting Tent
For some reason I started to feel a bit flat after that. Maybe it was because by this time I had been here for over six  hours and I was now almost out of money. I was also rather wishing I had come with a jolly group of friends so that I could continue to celebrate, but that mood dissippated as soon as I stopped by a fire pit.People immediately drew me into their circle and I was alone no more. Fortified with hot chestnuts and a last mug of mulled cider for which I was a dollar short, I soon found myself dancing the night away amid the straw and the mud.   When the band simply couldn’t play another encore, it was time to say goodbye to all my new best friends and head for home, though by now I was rather wishing I had booked for three nights instead of one. 

Although similar winter festivities can be observed throughout much of the UK, Willie Smith’s is now regarded as the biggest Apple Festival in the world.  They are all about conviviality and bringing the sunshine back on these long cold winter nights. It certainly worked for me. Let’s hope it does so for the Huon Valley too. here's the song so you can practice for next year

“Old Apple Tree we’ll wassail thee,
And hoping you will bear.
The Lord does know where we shall be,
         To be merry another year.  etc…”

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Saving Raptors

The Wedge Tailed Eagle  (Aquila Audax) Australia's largest Raptor is found throughout Australia, Tasmania and the Southern parts of New Guinea

Image courtesy of JJ Harrison ( [CC BY-SA 3.0

Much of what needs to be done to ensure the survival of Raptors, needs to happen at the level of government as for instance, setting aside prime habitat and making sure that it is monitored and protected. Cooperation between regions and governments is also important especially with regard to migratory species.Unfortunately, the Memoranda of Understanding regarding Migratory Birds and Raptors is not binding and many countries, especially countries with the most species such as China and Russia, are not yet signatories. 

Despite this, great strides have been made, identifying hotspots and major problems, improving law enforcement, especially with regard killing, taking and trading of Raptors – now the third largest international crime category after illegal sales of arms and narcotics, by training more officers, increasing penalties and conducting more research. The EU is currently considering the banning of lead shot and lead fishing weights in wetlands – another source of Raptor decline. Such meetings raise awareness and provide excellent role models for other countries, whether they are members or not. 

All Raptors in Australia are protected and may not be shot or traded. Currently the penalties are up to $210,000 or ten years in prison for attempting to smuggle or trade wildlife, not just birds of prey.  

 With respect to utility poles and the like, in addition to those innovations already mentioned in the orevious post, sheathing, bundling, insulating wires, increasing the space between them or placing them underground, would all help to reduce Raptor mortality.  Sometimes such structures can even help. I read recently that Telstra  is allowing its redundant telegraph poles on the treeless Nullabor Plain to remain in situ for use by Raptors, but other companies have yet to follow suit.

Controlling and monitoring the use of poisons and destructive pest control remain problems. 
Landowners have a special responsibility in that regard, as well as in maintaining habitat and breeding places. Instead of rewarding landowners with tax breaks for clearing land, perhaps they should instead be rewarded for good environmental practices such as preserving habitat and flyways, for creating buffer zones and protecting nesting sites. This would benefit not only Raptors but other species  as well, including domesticated stock. Successful land management and pest control strategies could be shared with other farmers via the media and trade shows. Rather than seeing this as a burden, some enlightened farmers are seeing opportunities in eco –tourism. 

 Given that only 20% of Tasmania’s prime Raptor territory is on Crown land or in reserves,covenants over valuable habitat on private land such as we have to a limited extent in Tasmania, may be a workable option, especially in poorer regions.  Read the full report by Dr. Penny Olsen at Birdlife. org. for more information.

As far as individuals go, membership of, donation to or volunteering with groups such as Birdlife Australia, Landcare, Bushcare and Coastcare will encourage the preservation  and restoration of Raptor habitat.  Aussies can click here to find a group near you. Getting other stakeholders on board such as Rock climbers in the case of Sea Eagles, is important too.  A minor relocation of some activities, or fencing off critical areas, may make a big difference. Hunters and fishers can help too by switching to non -lead bullets and sinkers and by reporting violations.

If you see illegal shooting, trapping or persecution of Raptors, this should be reported to local Wildlife Officers or Police.  Should you find injured birds, take them to your nearest rescue centre for care and rehabilitation.  Refuges and sanctuaries have an additional role to play in educating the public and may even offer tours. Some of the main ones in Australia are listed below, although there are national, regional and international bodies who care about Raptors as well, though they are too numerous to list here. 

 Meanwhile, October is National Raptor Month. Watch out for the International Raptor Conference in Bali between 10  Several countries are also offering Raptor Tours. I have no idea about the quality of these, but provided that the Raptors themselves are not harmed in the process, it is another way to heighten awareness as well as raising funds for their protection.  

Raptor sanctuaries in Australia (not in any particular order).

Raptor Refuge, Tasmania  or call 1800727867



Australian Animal Rescue Inc

Australian Fauna Care

Australian Seabird Rescue


Bird Care & Conservation Society SA Inc

Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary - Tasmania

Brisbane Area Rescue Network (BARN)

Central North Wildlife Care and Rescue Tasmania

Emergency Wildlife Care & Emergency Seabird Rescue

F.A.W.N.A - WA

FAUNA Association: QLD

Fauna Rescue of South Australia Inc

Mission Beach Wildcare

North Queensland Wildlife Care

Orphaned Native Animal Raise & Release Association Inc. - Barellan Point QLD

Redlands 24 hour Wildlife Rescue

SA Bird of Prey Rehabilitation Centre

Sydney Metropolitan Wildlife Services

WA Conservation of Raptors

Western Australia StateWide 24 hour Wildcare Helpline

Wildcare Inc NT

Wildlife Animal Rescue & Care Society Inc. (Wildlife ARC)

Wildlife Victoria